When President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, he understood that a nation’s ability to prosper depended on a vital transportation network. Over the years that network of highways continued to grow into one of the largest and most complex transportation networks in the world. Unfortunately, the need to upgrade it has hit a big bump in the road. The federal gas tax is going broke. We no longer have the ability to fund improvments just to keep the system operating at current levels, much less improve it for the future.
Congress has not completed work on a long-term transportation bill, resulting in the 35th short-term funding measure in a row. It has become clear that action to maintain a viable transportation system will need to take place at the state level, with governors leading the way.
Gov. Pat McCrory has stepped up to meet this challenge with his recommended Connect NC bond program. It includes a $1.48 billion infrastructure bond, with projects selected by strategic priority. The program will provide financing for 101 projects in 64 counties, creating an estimated 15,600 jobs. The highway portion would provide $1.37 billion in funding for 27 highway projects and 176 paving projects in 57 counties.
As Gov. McCrory has noted, this will allow the state to take advantage of historically low interest rates. It will not require tax increases, and will allow North Carolina to maintain its position as one of 10 states to have earned the Triple A bond rating from all three major ratings agencies.
In the most recent report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, North Carolina’s 80,000-plus mile highway network received a C and warned that trends of reduced funding would make this difficult to maintain. It recommended developing dedicated funding plans, and this bond program does that.
Having a sound transportation system is critical to North Carolina’s continued economic health.
Gov. McCrory has placed his proposal before legislators. I urge them to put it on the ballot. I have seen how successful these bond programs are in other states. It would be wonderful if Congress were to pass a long-term bill to support transportation, but don’t count on it. North Carolina can do better under the governor’s bond program.
Peters served in the George W. Bush administration.